Trains! And Kindness!

Many years ago, back in our preschool days, my family had the pleasure of visiting the Crossville Model Railroad Club  in Crossville, TN. It was an incredible experience, not only because of the intricate train displays, but also because of the overwhelming kindness we encountered during our visit.

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We were traveling to Nashville and had heard about this impressive train display that was en route. We knew we had to see it since there were TWO little train fanatics in our house (ages 3 and 4.5). Our home was basically all trains, all the time, so this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. The Model Railroad Club rents space in an outlet mall and has a whole storefront FULL of different size model train layouts.  The only problem was that we would be driving through on a THURSDAY afternoon, a time when they used to not be open.  I contacted a club member named Mike Braunstein via e-mail about a week ahead of time and inquired about setting up a private train viewing, as indicated on their website. He responded very kindly that they did not generally do private viewings for anyone but groups. He continued on to say that they usually had some folks working on the displays almost every day, and “if you care to stop and see if anyone is there I am sure they would be more than glad to show your family around. Depending on which display group is working they can probably run a few trains.”

*SIGH*.  “Stopping by” and risking letting my kids see a train utopia through locked doors without actually being allowed to go inside was NOT an option. My youngest has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and at the time my oldest was struggling with anxiety and social phobias, and putting them in a potentially disappointing situation like that was just asking for a meltdown. I have long held the philosophy, “Ask for what you need,” and find that some people are quite often willing to make accommodations to help us if I give them a simple explanation of my family’s situation. I do not EXPECT people to accommodate us, I only do this if I think it will not be a burden, but figure it can’t hurt to ask. After a LOT of careful thinking I emailed the following reply:

Thank you for writing me back! Is there any possible way that, without inconveniencing anyone,  I can be sure that someone will be there that day? I have 2 sons, one with special needs, and I would hate to set them up for disappointment. The reason we want to come see your exhibit is that a family member of mine who was there recently was VERY impressed and knew that my boys would be enthralled. For some reason children on the autism spectrum are overly fascinated by trains… especially Thomas. Our house is full of toy trains. I think it has to do in part with the rhythmic motion of the wheels.  It would mean SO much to them to see it, but I can’t change our travel plans to come there unless I know we can enter the exhibit. Travel with small children is hard enough, even more so with special needs. If it doesn’t work out I understand, but I thought I would check into the possibility.  Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you so much for your time-

Without hesitation he responded that if I called him when I was about an hour away he would meet me there personally & show us around.

When the day for our visit finally arrived my 2 boys acted like they were walking into Disneyland (cue heavenly music)…

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Especially when they saw THIS…

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IT’S THOMAS!!!

And Percy! And James! And Harold!!!

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The 2 children wearing the train shirts in the top left corner of the picture are mine. We edited out their faces for security, so unfortunately you miss out on seeing the look of utter & complete JOY on their little faces.  Believe me when I say they were THRILLED.  Every time a train rolled by they squealed, “HI, PERCY!”, or, “HI, JAMES!”, or, “HI, THOMAS!!!”  They stood at the Thomas table alone for more than 10 minutes~ a LOOONG time for kids with short attention spans. My husband was having a lot of fun, too.

Turns out our e-mail friend Mike had filled some of the other club members in on our family’s situation.  There were several other individuals present when we arrived and they were ALL incredibly welcoming & kind & friendly & went out of their way to help us enjoy the exhibit. They ran several of the trains for us and made us feel like VIPs. I think they were also excited to have such passionate little train enthusiasts to appreciate their beautiful displays. My husband and I were incredibly overwhelmed by the effort they put into talking with us & showing us around. Come to think of it, they are probably that way with everyone who walks in the door, but it still made me feel special. I was especially touched when a female member of the club asked me, “I don’t know a lot about Autism. Could you please help explain it to me?”  I could have hugged her! For her to take the time to ask and try & become more educated showed a level of compassion that was deeply moving.  I LOVE it when people are open and caring and say, “I don’t understand~ can you teach me?”  The alternative is far worse~ I hate it when people decide to say NOTHING & walk away because that which they don’t understand makes them uncomfortable. (See “Silence is not always golden”)

My children spent a very long time exploring each and every detail of the glorious train land.  They were VERY sad to leave, especially since there was also a Thomas Wooden Railway train table to play with.  I think they could have stayed there forever.  A FABULOUS time was had by all. As we left I tried to give Mike a donation for the club (it was the least I could do for their kindness), and he responded, “Keep it. Buy those boys some more trains.”

After our return home I posted a version of this story on my old blog, with these closing words that still hold true:

Thank you, THANK YOU, Crossville Model Railroad Club, for giving my children such a treat… and for giving their Mom & Dad a special gift with your compassion and generosity.  There are good people in this world.  Just go to Crossville.

I sent Mike a link to the post along with my words of thanks, and asked him to please share my appreciation with the rest of the club. He responded by emailing me pictures he took of my children at the display, and said, “All the club members talked about how much fun it was to have the boys (all three of them) in attendance.”  It meant a lot to me to hear that. It meant even more than he had been willing to go out of his way to help us. He and the rest of the Club didn’t have to do that, but they chose to. In a world where children with special needs are all too often devalued and ridiculed, they made an extra effort to show us compassion and kindness. And for that I remain incredibly grateful.

It turns out that good news really does travel fast, and word of the CMRC’s kindness made it all the way to a City Council meeting and was even featured in the local paper. In an article titled, “Council hears about ‘good people’ in Crossville,” Reporter Jim Young wrote, “A happy story about kids and model trains doesn’t usually come out of a city council meeting, but Crossville Mayor J.H. Graham III shared the story at the December council meeting as an example of what kind of people live in the local community and how an act of kindness can show Crossville in a good light.”

One man’s good deed not only made my family very happy, but it also had quite the ripple effect! It was all deeply moving, and I was glad that our happy story resonated with other people. I hope that the City Council and the newspaper readers were proud of the caring and friendly members of the Railroad Club, and that it inspired them to go out and find ways to perform their own acts of kindness as well. I also hope that it helped them see children with special needs in a new light.

Our magical visit occurred in 2009, but years later I am still moved when I think of that special day and the kindness we received. I am also happy to say the Crossville Model Railroad Club is still chugging along! Check out their website! Their hours are: Tuesday Through Sunday 12 Noon – 5 PM, Open Saturdays 10 AM – 5 PM, Closed on Mondays, Open On Some Major Holidays 10 AM – 5PM … OR by appointment, if you say “pretty please”.  They’re awesome like that.

 

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